Heidelberg is a cute little city in southern Germany, about an hour by train from Frankfurt. I live here with my family, so I’ve had plenty of time to discover all the little corners, bakeries, and playgrounds. Of course, there’s the romantic ruins of the Schloss, there’s the beautiful Altstadt, but… then what? This is what the locals do with their families.
Take a picnic to the Neckarweise
Neckarweise [Neckar-VEE-zah] translates to Neckar meadow, and on a nice day, it’s home to pretty much every Heidelberger in a 5km radius. There are several playgrounds to choose from: a fenced-in one for smaller kids, a water and natural stone hill with lots of streams and channels, and some bigger play structures dotted around. The meadow has lots of space for kicking a ball around, as well as a beach volleyball area.
There’s a little cafe serving ice cream, toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, and cold drinks. Clean public washrooms are available right there too.
If you’re looking for something for dinner nearby, see my last point about the Neuenheim Marktplatz, as it’s just a two-minute walk away. If you’d rather stay on the meadow, there’s a really great and super affordable neighbourhood pizza place just up Werderstraße called Il Carpaccio. The restaurant is just where Werderstraße meets Ladenburgerstraße. It’s a two-minute walk, and you can bring the pizzas back down to your spot on the grass.
Escape the heat in the Märchenparadies and visit the falcons
It’s not just the castle up there on the Königstuhl, there’s also an aging amusement park called Märchenparadies at the very top. It’s small, but entertaining for an afternoon – and if you’re looking to escape the heat in the summer it’s cooler up there. This is less an amusement park than a strange collection of old-school, self-powered fun park rides. Among the giant trees are concrete pads where your kids can drive little cars, ride strange bikes, and sit on jerky metal horses that go around a track.
There’s a soft play area that’s covered, and a very basic cafe that serves currywurst and wurst in buns. Entrance is 5€, and rides are a few tokens each, with each token costing 50 cents. Arrive at opening to catch the quietest time, but to be honest, even in the middle of the summer it’s not that busy. From April to the end of October, you can also catch a falcon show, at the dedicated Tinnunculus (this is not inside Märchen-Paradies, but near the top of the funicular).
To get to the top of the Königstuhl, you can take the funicular that leaves from the Kornmarkt, or the 39 bus goes up there for much cheaper (but takes much longer), or there’s a road if you’ve got a car – but in the summer you may need to park some distance away.
Rent a little boat on the river
You can rent either a pedalo or a small motorboat from right beside the Theodor-Husse Bridge (that’s not the old bridge with the arches, but the newer one to the west) and put-put around on the Neckar river. It’s 18€ per half hour for the motorboat and 12€ per half hour for the pedalo, and you just need to leave a 50€ deposit that is returned to you when you return the boat. The motorboat is very easy to drive, and all the boats fit four people. There’s no booking ahead, it’s a pretty bare-bones operation. Handily, the same little office that rents out the boats also sells cold drinks and ice cream.
Visit the Klosterhof
Walk across the Altebrücke, and then catch the bus for a few stops, and it’s like you’re in another world. The Klosterhof is an old monastery farm dating from the middle ages, and like all good monasteries, they also have a brewery. Sample their local beer, peer at the cows and goats, take a walk in the orchards, check out the trout in the stream, and have lunch in their Gasthof. There’s a little shop with lots of locally produced things you can pack home – jams, jellies, and that sort of thing. There’s also cheese, beer, wine, and cider, so you can stock your hotel room too.
Rent a quadcycle and tour the playgrounds of Bahnstadt
The newly built green neighbourhood of Bahnstadt is taking over where the US Army rail switching yards and warehouses used to be. It’s been designed for walkability, and family friendliness. There are quite a few playgrounds, not to mention cafes, ice cream places, wine bars, restaurants, and fountains. The friendly Ruprecht Rides bike shop in the Bahnstadt is your pick-up spot for Quadcycle rentals. These amazing looking bikes come in two sizes: the small one allows two adults to pedal and has space for two small kids, the large size can accommodate four adults pedalling and two small children. Of course, if your kids can reach the pedals, they can help with the locomotion! Rentals start at 15€ per hour, and you can book ahead through the quadcycle website. In the winter, the quadcycles are available on Saturdays and Sundays, but they are securely stored in the garage, so don’t panic if you don’t see them out front. On Sundays, the shop is closed, but you can still rent the quadcycles, just be sure to book ahead. The couple who rents them out are native English speakers, so feel free to shoot them a note through their Quadcycle site.
Wander down the Hauptstraße, eat gelato, then playground
This is not so much an specific activity, as what most Heidelbergers end up doing at some point in the week. Our Hauptstraße is a very long pedestrianized shopping street, and if you need anything like an extra jumper, a USB cable, or clean socks, this is the place. It runs from the Altstadt where the shops are more souvenir-and-novelty-liquor to the Bismarckplatz, where all the usual things are like H&M, Galeria Kaufhof (the big department store), Mountain Warehouse, Saturn (tech stuff, and if you need an adaptor or cable, go here), Accessorize, and all that.
There is a nice gelato place inside the little Darmstadter Hof mall at the Bismarckplatz end, but to be honest, there are gelato places all over and they’ve all been good. After you’ve picked up the necessities, head to Plöck, the street running parallel to the Hauptstraße, away from the river. Watch out for bikes, as all the locals use this as their bicycle thoroughfare, but it’s also where you can find a couple central playgrounds.
Our favourite is on the corner of Märzgasse and Plöck. There’s a clean, coin-operated public toilet there, and the super cute and tasty Bäckerei Göbes just around the corner on Plöck for snacks. Kinderladen Troll, just over the road from the bakery, is a classic German toy store, full to the rafters of amazing wooden toys. If you happen to be farther down towards the Altstadt, check out the playground opposite the school on Schulgasse, between Plöck and the Hauptstraße.
Have dinner and let the kids play
One of my favourite German things is the playground in the biergarten situation, though I should say our local pub in London had this figured out too. It is so civilized. If you’re looking for something a little nicer, try Heid’s, a Heidelberg institution. They have a beautiful garden, complete with some ride-on toys and a play structure. The food is mainly pizza and steak, but it’s very good.
For something more relaxed, check out the cluster of restaurants in the Neuenheim Marktplatz. It’s really one of my favourite things about living in the neighbourhood. Three restaurants put their tables and chairs out in the Marktplatz, that shares space with a church tower from the 12th century, and a little play structure shaped like a fire truck in a sandpit and a swing. You can sit at a nice table, have a glass of wine, while your child fills their trousers with sand. The Marktstübel does Flammkuchen, a sort of flatbread pizza with onions and bacon pieces, that most children are up for. It’s totally fine, and normal, to have your child run up, eat for a minute, and then head back to the playground. We often meet friends here, because we can have dinner out, and have a conversation.